Matthew 10:16-25 – The Place of Trouble

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (New International Version)
 
Take a moment to let this statement from Jesus sink-in: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”… 
 
To name the obvious: A pack of wolves will attack a flock of sheep because a wolf is a hunter, and a sheep is the prey. In short, wolves eat sheep.
 
So, when Jesus said this to a group of guys who are familiar with rural metaphors, they clearly got the message: The Lord is putting us in a place of danger. We are at risk. We could lose our lives.
 
From the mere human perspective, Christ’s words to his disciples are outlandish. Here we have a group of people who are following Jesus. But they likely didn’t sign-up for this! Perhaps they began to think their Lord was a bit off his rocker. Maybe he ate a piece of moldy bread or a leftover fish that didn’t agree with him.
 
Sometimes, followers of Jesus Christ completely lose sight that he was a troublemaker and warned us about trouble in the world. 
 
It’s not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people, at the worst, gnashing their teeth and caballing to kill him; and, at the least, causing them to question why they are even paying attention to him. 
 
Then, when you throw into the mix that Jesus also tended to get all up into people’s grill and confront them with bold assertions that they can only be rightly related to God through himself, on his terms, there ends up being a large chunk of folks who simply walk away, believing Christian discipleship isn’t for them.
 
Yet, Jesus wasn’t presenting something brand new. He was lifting up a truth which has been with God’s people throughout the ages: God never promises to keep us from trouble.
 
In fact, the Lord does just the opposite: He promises we will face a great deal of trouble because of our spiritual commitments. However, there is a further promise: God will be with us through the trouble, and not apart from it. We don’t even need to worry about what to say because God’s very Spirit will speak for us.
 
This is one reason why Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Yes, Jesus is sending out his disciples like vulnerable sheep among ravenous wolves. However, he forever stands as the divine sentinel, watching over the flock, keeping them safe, going after the strays, and challenging the predators.
 
We may be in a difficult place of trouble, yet Jesus is present with us by means of the Holy Spirit. We do not fear and instead live with confidence in the middle of hard circumstances because God is with us. And if God is with us and God loves us, nothing can separate us from our Lord – no matter how cunning and intimidating that big old wolf is.
 
Therefore, we should expect opposition and trouble. There are going to be times that we unintentionally disrupt and upset our families, our co-workers, and those around us. 
 
It’s not that we are trying to be obnoxious or malicious; it’s just that by simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him, we are going to upset some people – and, as Christians, we need to be okay with that reality. 
 
Facing trouble is really not the worst thing to be experienced; to be separated from God is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to us.
 
My friends, it is okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you are committed to God’s will and you are truly living into the words and ways of Jesus. 
 
Because Jesus faced a great deal of trouble, opposition, and suffering, he is able to help us through our own overwhelming stuff.
 
So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will actually find it – and find that you are saved and safe.
 
Holy God, you are jealous for your Name to be honored and adored. My life is yours. Use it for your glory in this fallen world. If trouble and persecution occur, I’ll consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus and an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to show up. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

Psalm 31:9-16 – Lord, Have Mercy

Christ in Gethsemane by Michael O’Brien

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
    Tears blur my eyes.
    My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
    my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
    I am wasting away from within.
I am scorned by all my enemies
    and despised by my neighbors—
    even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
    they run the other way.
I am ignored as if I were dead,
    as if I were a broken pot.
I have heard the many rumors about me,
    and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
    plotting to take my life.

But I am trusting you, O Lord,
    saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
    Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
    In your unfailing love, rescue me. (New Living Translation)

One of my parishioners from years ago had seen hard combat in Italy during World War II. He saw his best friend killed, right next to him. I still remember his story and what he said in conclusion to it, in his own sage way: “In my experience, war is a very poor way of dealing with problems.”

And yet, we sometimes find ourselves embedded in circumstances we neither wanted nor asked for. Just ask the Ukrainians. No one puts their name on a sign-up sheet for suffering. Yet not a one of us can avoid it. 

Pain comes in all kinds of forms. Maybe the worst kind of suffering is the wound inflicted from others looking down at you when you’re already experiencing trouble and damaged emotions. 

Whether it is an ethnic or racial group of people facing ridicule, anger, and even beatings or death; or whether it is refugees trying to survive the ravages of war, the physical effects of pain can oftentimes be secondary to the primary hurt experienced within the spirit. 

“Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to Him in trust and confidence.”

Billy Graham

The Old Testament character, David, knew first-hand about suffering through hard circumstances. There were times when he felt completely overwhelmed by the evil machinations of people trying to take his life. If we could put ourselves in David’s sandals, we can understand why he was worn-out to the point of not sleeping, not eating well, even with a hint of paranoia. 

David responded to his seemingly impossible situation by entrusting himself to God. He truly believed he was in the Lord’s hands – and that fact was David’s go-to truth. 

Crossing over into the New Testament Gospels, Jesus uttered his last words on the cruel cross from this today’s psalm: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). 

The cross was an obvious place of extreme bodily pain. That wretched pain, however, was dwarfed by the great spiritual pain of holding the entire world’s hurts and their curse of separation. The stress of both body and soul must have been crushing for Jesus. 

Yet, there was a strength of assurance, for Jesus, in the eye of that pain – the confidence of knowing he was in good hands, just like David’s confidence a millennium before.

There are times in life when we all struggle with why particular afflictions happen to us, in whatever form they might take in us. 

It is in the situation of being forgotten by others that we are most remembered by God.

It is within the crucible of trouble that God is the expert in deliverance.

It is when others revile us, say terrible things about us, and talk behind our backs that God comes alongside and whispers words of grace and steadfast love to us. 

It is whenever life is downright hard that we see a soft-hearted God standing to help us and hold us. 

While we are feeling our awful suffering, God is carefully crafting within us resilience through the rejection, empathy in our loneliness, purpose because of the trauma, forgiveness out of the shame, courage from having been failed, and self-awareness in the wake of emotional devastation. 

The biblical psalms are the consummate place to go when we are most in need. They provide the means to lift heartfelt prayers whenever our own words fail us. 

The psalms give us structure and meaning when the world around us makes no sense. 

The psalms do not always give us answers to our most vexing questions; they do, however, point us to the God who is attentive to the least, the lost, and the lonely.

Together, as people sharing the human condition of suffering, we cry out, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on us and grant us your peace. Amen.” 

Psalm 20 – May the Lord Grant All Your Requests

Psalm 20:4-5, Common English Bible

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!
(New International Version)

There are times when a present situation seems nonsensical. It’s just downright confounding. There’s a disconnect between the contemporary present moment and the ancient biblical past. How do we pull ancient Scripture and the wisdom of the past into the here and now?

We look to the psalms and pray them, out loud, multiple times, every day.

In the crucible of life’s challenges and the struggles of daily living, we might too quickly neglect the grace, relevance, and truth of God’s Word to us. 

The psalms are both prayer and worship directed to God. Many of those prayers are for oneself. Others, like today’s psalm, are intercessions for others.

It is my sincere and ardent desire that you will experience a good life, even when that life has a bevy of challenges, stresses, and difficulties baked into it. And so:

May the Lord answer you in the stress of your life.

May the name of the ever-living, ever-present God protect you.

May the Lord send you help from the holy habitation, and give you support from heaven itself!

May God almighty remember all the ways you have given and served.

May the Lord be pleased with everything you have sacrificed on behalf of divine purposes and plans.

May God grant your heart’s deep longing and carry out every good plan you conceive.

May we together shout for joy when you overcome incredible pressure, and in the name of God throw a big ol’ party because of answered prayer!

May the Lord bring to fruition every one of your prayers.

I have supreme confidence that God’s people shall be delivered from trouble. The Lord will answer from heaven with the full force of saving power. Some put their ultimate trust in military might. Others place faith in financial security. But the people of God trust in the name of the Lord our God.

We may collapse and fall. There might be obstacles galore. Stress and pressure may be our constant companions. No matter. We get up and stand again with confidence. The Lord will save us. God will answer when we call.

For the Christian, all of God’s good promises are realized in Jesus. Ultimate help and deliverance come from Christ. Even more, Jesus came to give victory to all people everywhere….

Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, CEB)

Everyone who has been born from God has won the victory over the world. Our faith is what wins the victory over the world. Who wins the victory over the world? Isn’t it the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5, GW)

The Lord wants to grant our requests. God is on our side. There is help from heaven. It is available to us – if we but ask….

 “Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you.” (Matthew 7:7, ERV)

“From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” (John 14:13-14, MSG)

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

G.K. Chesterton

Perseverance in prayer is needed. Lifting a request to God isn’t a one-time event. It is okay, even encouraged, to persist in prayer….

Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’

“He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So, what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (Luke 18:1-8, MSG)

Giving voice to our needs and wants to God is the first step toward having our sincere requests answered. And the psalms can help us realize it.

Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As I go through the trials of life, help me to realize that you are with me at all times and in all things; that I have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds me for eternity. In the security of your embrace, I pray. Amen.